When Keith Strawn was told he had to spend 120 days in jail, the sentencing judge advised the Idaho man to use the time to "think about the 120 days your daughter was married to a rapist because of you." How his daughter Heather came to marry her rapist is one of the stories told by the Kansas City Star in a much larger piece on Missouri's child brides. Yes, Missouri, and yes, Strawn lives 1,100 miles away. But upon finding out his daughter was pregnant by 24-year-old Aaron Seaton in 2015, he loaded them into his car on her 15th birthday and the group made the 17-hour journey to Kansas City so the two could be married. It could be achieved with just Strawn's signature; in Idaho, however, a judge would have to be involved, and the pregnancy—legally the result of statutory rape—may have led to the young man's arrest.
The Star calls Missouri "the easiest place in America for a 15-year-old to wed," and it analyzed data that found roughly a third of the 1,000 15-year-olds who married in the state between 1999 and 2015 wed men 21 or older. "Assuming they had premarital sex, those grooms would be considered rapists," it observes, with Missouri's definition applying to people over 21 and younger than 17 having premarital sex. In Heather Strawn's case, her mom called Idaho police after learning what her ex-husband had done. Heather lost the baby, the marriage was annulled, and Seaton ended up sentenced to 15 years. The Star piece tracks the case of other young brides, including a 15-year-old who uttered "I guess" instead of "I do." The marriage fell apart, but, now 24, she can't yet afford a divorce. Read the piece in full. (Read more Longform stories.)